I am interested in the design, function, and evolution of the vertebrate musculoskeletal system, particularly in relation to locomotion. My research involves studying patterns of muscle activation, length change, and force production in vivo, during various locomotor activities.

I have worked on diverse animal systems ranging from swimming fish to jumping frogs to running mammals. In using a broadly comparative animal approach to study locomotion, I can gain insight into general principles underlying musculoskeletal form, function, and control that transcend specific taxonomic boundaries.

In addition, a well-designed comparative approach provides useful opportunities to understand the ecological relevance or evolutionary history of structural and functional aspects of the musculoskeletal system.

My ultimate goal is to understand how the structure, actions, and coordination of multiple muscle systems lead to the dynamic and diverse locomotor behaviors we observe in nature.

Two main themes have characterized much of my research. The first is an investigation into the neuromuscular mechanisms that facilitate functional versatility during locomotion. The second theme in my research has been an exploration of the influence of morphological variation on the mechanics and control of animal movement.

Below are some of the projects I've worked on in the past, as well as several projects I am currently working on or look forward to working on with new students.

Past Projects

  • Muscular control of locomotion in aquatic versus terrestrial environments
  • Evolution of prey transport behaviors in lower vertebrates
  • Effects of speed, gait and grade on terrestrial locomotion in quadrupedal mammals
  • Undulatory swimming in elongate fishes and salamanders

Current and/or Future Projects

  • Effects of body size on homologous limb muscle function during quadrupedal locomotion
  • Coordination of landing in anuran amphibians (frogs and toads)
  • Hindlimb flexor muscle activity patterns during anuran locomotion

Gillis lab